In Defense of Doubt

Bill Buckner played professional baseball for 22 years, won a major league batting title, and was elected to the All-Star team. Unfortunately, he is probably best remembered, though, for letting one ground ball go between his legs in the 1986 World Series and costing the Boston Red Sox their first championship since 1918. Life is like that; you can do thousands of things right, and, somehow, the one time you don’t, that’s what others remember.

St. Thomas the Apostle knows about that. He was chosen by our Lord. He traveled farther and into a more inhospitable land than any of the other apostles, and was martyred there. Yet today he is only known as “Doubting Thomas.” That is sad because there is much we can learn from him, including his “doubts,” and much we need him for.

Thomas seemed to be of the melancholic temperament. He is that person on the committee who, when everyone else gets excited about a project and seems ready to soar off on it, raises his hand and says, “That all sounds good, but how are we going to pay for it?” In the gospels, he is the one who seems to take a rather “head-on, face the facts” approach to things. His first line comes when our Lord announces that he is returning to Judaea for the sake of Lazarus. The other apostles object: “They wanted to stone you there!” But our Lord is resolute, and so is Thomas. You can almost hear the Eeyore in his voice: “Let us go, too, and be killed with him” (John 11:16). No one else seemed to get it; he did. No arguing, no whining; them’s the facts. That’s Thomas’s approach.

Then at the Last Supper, Jesus is talking about “going away.” You can almost see everyone else looking at each other and whispering, “What’s he talking about?” It’s Thomas again who presses the point. He asks the blunt question that everyone else is afraid to ask. “We don’t know where you going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). I think he probably knew the way, but he just wanted our Lord to “put his cards on the table,” perhaps so the others would get the point. In response our Lord, gives him a definitive statement. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” A statement that blows holes in all the “to each his own” philosophies of our day.

And then there is the famous “doubting’ scene. There are a few things to note about this. First is that Divine Providence allowed Thomas to be absent at the first appearance of our Lord. That is another way of saying that God trusted Thomas to doubt. That’s a pretty big compliment. Second, give the man his due: he came back, he was willing to face his doubts. Third, look at the proof he demands. Not feeding multitudes, miraculous cures or marvelous catches of fish; his Lord is the crucified Lord. “Show me the marks; show me the wounds. The Jesus I know suffered.” Not for him the images of the “resurrected Jesus” seeming to float off the cross as though nothing really happened. “Ask and you shall receive,” said our Lord. Thomas asked and got—touched—his answer. His response is the definitive statement of faith: “My Lord and my God.”

So what can we learn? First, that doubt—honest doubt—is really a quest for faith. The person who is honestly doubting is honestly questioning. And that’s a good thing. Our Lord can take it. Another Thomas—Aquinas—probably raised more questions about the faith than any other theologian in history, and he is now known as the “universal doctor of the Church.” We need to remember this when we have doubts. If they are honest doubts, there are honest answers. We must, though, be willing to face our doubts, not walk away from them. Give me an honest doubter, who is really seeking answers, any day of the week over the wishy-washy wimp who doesn’t dare—or who doesn’t care—to ask questions. Why? Because the honest doubter will get honest answers. The one who doesn’t dare or care to question, remains stunted, and usually falls by the wayside. We also must be willing to face blunt answers, answers that probably will lead us to suffer.

Thomas doubted because Thomas wanted answers, and he got them. Thomas doubted because Thomas wanted The Truth, and he got it. “I am The Way” not the value system; “I am The Truth,” not the opinion; “I am The Life,” not the life-style. Many have left the Church, or don’t even honestly deal with the Church, because they are not willing to face their doubts and search honestly for the answers. Many have left because so many in the Church were either afraid to give answers or didn’t have the knowledge to give answers. The truth is a magnet. A magnet repels and attracts. So does the truth. It repels those who don’t want it, and it attracts those who seek it. We have the Truth and we must not be afraid to proclaim it. We are told to “speak the Truth with charity.” Yes, but first speak the Truth. Our truth is the crucified Lord. Many have left the Church because to follow Christ means a death, at least to ourselves, and, possibly, at the hands of others.  Many of the scandals of the past fifty years have arisen because those who should have asked blunt questions and demanded blunt answers didn’t do so. On the other hand, the religious orders that have thrived in the last fifty years are the ones who have embraced the truth of the Catholic faith and the crucified Lord. The families that have survived in the last fifty years are the ones who have embraced the Truth of the Catholic faith and the crucified Lord. Catholic apologetics is awash with converts who weren’t afraid to ask blunt questions that led them to the truth of the Faith.

Thomas was called “the Twin.” There are various theories about this, but mine is that it was because he was like our Lord in facing facts head on. “You’re going to Jerusalem to die? All right, I’ll go with you.” “You are the Way, The Truth and The Life. Then you are my way, my truth, my life. You have nail marks and wounds. So must I, my Lord and my God.” Let us ask this doubting saint to help us—and others—face our doubts honestly, ask blunt questions, and demand blunt answers. The answers may be difficult, will probably lead us to a death, but will also lead us to the Truth that is The Life.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” painted by Caravaggio, circa 1600.

Robert B. Greving

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Robert B. Greving teaches Latin and English grammar at The Heights School in Potomac, Maryland. Mr. Greving served five years in the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps following his graduation from Dickinson School of Law. After military service, he returned to Dickinson to study Latin and Greek. Originally from North Dakota, Mr. Greving earned a B.A. in history at Louisiana State University.

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